Traveling in a predominately Muslim country during Ramadan can be a wonderful, but challenging experience. Particularly for those of us who are not very good at abstaining from food and drink for more than 15 minutes at a time (guilty).
Life moves at a much slower pace during Ramadan and many shops and restaurants operate on a different schedule. While most areas that cater to tourists will have options available to accommodate guests, Ramadan is a very holy time for Muslims and one that should be treated with the utmost respect by visitors.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims spend the daylight hours fasting (sawm). Abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs, the objective of this time is to focus on purifying oneself. After sunset, there’s a meal to break the fast (iftar) which is then followed by a late-night feast and a meal before the sun comes up and fasting begins once again (sahur). In addition to fasting and feasting, Ramadan also focuses on generosity and charity with people going out of their way to help others.
Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public. In some areas it’s illegal to do. In others it’s just poor taste. So while it’s fine to go ahead and scarf down a sandwich or down a bottle of water if you can’t go without food or drink during the day, it’s probably not a great idea to do it in front of someone who is fasting. Although those fasting will recognize that you’re a visitor, they’ll appreciate your awareness. Fasting is hard enough as it is. It’s a lot harder when someone is eating in front of you.
Be sure to plan ahead. Everything slows down during Ramadan. Many businesses are still open, but operating on a different schedule. Restaurants may close or have different opening hours. Call ahead to double check that the places you plan on visiting will be open. While grocery stores remain open, in areas that are not heavily populated by tourists, restaurants may be shut down for the month. Pack some extra snacks just in case. Just be sure to eat them discreetly and not out in public.
Accept hospitality. If someone offers you a Ramadan treat or invites you to their home to break fast, don’t refuse. Firstly because it would be incredibly impolite and contradictory to the generous spirit of Ramadan. Secondly because you would be missing out on some amazing food and a wonderful experience.
Shift your schedule. During Ramadan, evenings and nights are when everything happens. If you’re not a night owl by nature, attempt to adjust your schedule so that you are able to wander around in the evening and take in the excitement of families and friends breaking fast and celebrating.